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the way forward for women offenders

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					                Women Offender Campaign Network
                 Convened by Women in Prison - www.womeninprison.org.uk

                 The Way Forward for Women Offenders
Meeting the needs of women offenders in the Mayor of London’s Violence Against
                               Women Strategy

Women Offender Campaign Network
This response has been written by Women in Prison and informed by the input of
members of the Women Offender Campaign Network. The Women Offender Campaign
Network shares policy information and good practice amongst those working with
women offenders and ex-offenders (either specifically or as part of a broader client
group) and aims to increase understanding of and commitment to meeting the needs of
women offenders and ex-offenders.

General Comments
We welcome the recognition in the consultation document that women offenders and ex-
offenders are marginalised and at risk. However, we question the accuracy of the
statistics referred to, that “[a]lmost half of women in prison have experienced domestic
violence and a third have been sexually abused”. In 2008 Women in Prison worked with
over 800 women, 81% of whom reported that they had experienced domestic violence or
sexual abuse.

The proposed action is insufficient:

       The Mayor will ask the MOJ to ensure that the national implementation plan for
       the Corston Report meets the needs of London.

Delivery of the Corston Report’s recommendations is not just the responsibility of central
government; women offenders’ needs must be met by every level of government. There
is too little understanding at regional and local level of how to meet the needs of women
offenders and too much reliance on references to Corston in place of proposals for
action. The key lesson still to be learnt from Corston is that responding to (and reducing)
women’s offending is not just a matter for the criminal justice system, it is the
responsibility of all departments of government at all levels.

Instead of just calling on the MOJ to take action the Mayor should use their role and
responsibilities to improve support for women offenders and ex-offenders who have
experienced gender-based violence, increase their safety and prevent re-victimisation.
London should be leading by example on how regional and local government can deliver
the “distinct radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-
centred, integrated approach” that the Corston Report recommended. This Strategy
should set out how this approach can be delivered in London for women offenders and
ex-offenders who have experienced VAW. The consultation document notes the
Corston Report’s recommendation for the development of specialised women’s centres
to work with women offenders, ex-offenders and women at risk of offending and states:

       Such centres would address the roots of offending and aim to reduce exclusion
       and isolation through provision of specialised and long-term interventions and
       providing gateways to mainstream services.

However, the consultation document does not outline how the Mayor will support the
development of such centres or similar services provided through other models of

          The Women Offender Campaign Network is supported by London Councils
delivery. The MOJ is funding such services through a £15.6 million fund announced in
February of this year. The strategy should detail how the Mayor will support the MOJ
funded projects in London to become sustainable beyond the initial MOJ funding of 2
years and to share learning from the projects to ensure a sufficient level of specialist
services throughout London.

As Chair of the Metropolitan Police Association the Mayor is well placed to bring about a
change in the way women suspects, offenders and ex-offenders are treated by police.
The Women's Resource Centre rightly state:

       In order for women to feel confident, they need to be treated with respect and
       dignity through each step of the criminal justice process. Women going through
       the criminal justice system deserve access to appropriate support, including
       being given the choice of support by specialist women's services.

This is no less true for women suspects, offenders and ex-offenders despite involvement
with the criminal justice system arising from possible offending behaviour rather than
reporting VAW offences.

Perspective & Leadership
The impacts of violence against women are not lessened because a woman is a
suspect, offender or ex-offender. Control and disempowerment which are core to law
enforcement and prison regimes are a feature of VAW. Detaining a woman who has
previously experienced gender-based violence compounds the impact of that violence,
re-subjugating and re-traumatising the woman. Action to mitigate trauma, avoid re-
traumatisation and to ensure access to support services is vital. To ensure this the
Strategy should:
     understand women offenders and ex-offenders as an under-served group for
       whom specific provision should be made
     commit to building capacity in existing services to provide for this group
     champion awareness raising and training within the police force

The National Offender Management Service pathway approach to reducing reoffending
includes two gender-specific pathways, including pathway 8: support for women who
have been abused, raped or who have experienced domestic violence. The consultation
document refers to criminal justice agencies in relation to treatment of women who report
VAW offences and in relation to perpetrators. Criminal justice agencies, including the
police, also need to be equipped to respond appropriately to women suspects, offenders
and ex-offenders, a high proportion of whom have experienced VAW. The strategy
should outline how the Mayor will create the culture shift needed in the criminal justice
system to put women's safety at the heart of responses to women's offending. These
measures should include:

      The Mayor should work with the London Director of Offender Management
       (DOM) to ensure that reducing reoffending pathway 8 is understood and
       effectively delivered by all relevant agencies in London, including those outside
       the criminal justice system.
      The VAW Steering Group should engage with criminal justice agencies to
       improve their response to women suspects, offenders and ex-offenders who



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Response to the Way Forward: A call for action to end violence against women
          have experienced VAW as well as to improve reporting and perpetrator
          management.
         The Mayor should reconvene the London Women’s Centre working group, whose
          role would include improving service provision across London for women who
          have experienced VAW, including specialist provision for women offenders and
          ex-offenders.
         The Mayor should convene a working group with key stakeholders to determine
          how to ensure access to support services for women offenders and ex-offenders
          who have experienced VAW across London (learning from the work done on
          increasing understanding of and specialist provision in relation to substance
          misuse and DV).
         The Mayor should designation a GLA lead on women, whose role would include
          improving service provision across London for women have experienced VAW,
          including specialist provision for women offenders and ex-offenders.


Police
The vast majority of women in contact with the criminal justice system as suspects,
offenders and ex-offenders have experienced gender-based violence. As chair of the
MPA the Mayor should champion a campaign to raise awareness of this within the police
force and improve police responses to women suspects, offenders and ex-offenders.
The Mayor should ensure that women are not re-victimised by their interaction with the
police including through
     training in appropriate screening for experience of VAW
     training in early detection of experience of VAW
     training in appropriate responses to women suspects, offenders and ex-offenders
        who have experienced VAW including enabling access or making referrals to
        support services and safety planning prior to release from police custody
     penalties for police who do not adequately support women suspects, offenders
        and ex-offenders who have experienced VAW

Because of their previous or ongoing relationship with the police women offenders and
ex-offenders are even less likely to report gender-based violence than women in the
wider population. The Mayor should work with police and other stakeholders to explore
how to encourage reporting by women offenders and ex-offenders and how to ensure
appropriate police responses to women offenders or ex-offenders reporting VAW.

Housing
According to the Social Exclusion Unit 41% of women do not have accommodation
arranged on release from prison.1 This coupled with a lack of effective safety planning
prior to release forces women into situations in which they are risk of VAW, for example
through returning to an abusive situation or living in unsafe housing. The Mayor, through
their housing responsibilities should seek to address this by identifying ways to
overcome the additional barriers women offenders who have experienced VAW face in
accessing housing, these should be included in the London Housing Strategy. Such
measures should include:
     timely access to housing advice and where needed advocacy support


1
    Social Exclusion Unit (2002) Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners

Women Offender Campaign Network                                                         3
Response to the Way Forward: A call for action to end violence against women
      ensuring priority housing for women who have experienced VAW is available in
       practice as well as in policy and is available to women offenders and ex-
       offenders

VAW Steering Group
The VAW Steering Group must include processes for small and/or specialist service
providers to contribute to its work. Similarly, the training consortium should outline how it
will facilitate input from specialist providers who may have limited resources to engage.

Responses to Specific Recommendations

The needs of women offenders and ex-offenders, like the needs of other minority
groups, should be mainstreamed throughout the strategy to ensure that all the measures
taken as a result of this strategy improve the safety of all London’s women.

Objective 1: London taking a global lead to end violence against women

Recommendation 3: Improve our understanding of violence against women
There is too little borough-specific data on numbers and needs of women offenders to
inform the commissioning of sufficient, localised services. Data on need should be
collected, including borough-by-borough statistics on numbers of women offenders
identifying needs arising from VAW.

Objective 2: Improving access to support

Recommendation 1: Ensure equitable access to high quality support services
across London

Women offenders and ex-offenders do not have equitable access to support services.
Women in Prison support workers struggle to gain access to refuges for women with
criminal records and women released on license. License conditions and criminal
records must not be barriers to women’s safety.

The strategy should note the need for women offenders and ex-offenders to have
equitable access to support services and outline how this will be achieved, for example
through:
    - Ensuring access to a range of specialist support services in prison and in police
       custody, including by facilitating access by service providers to prisons and police
       custody.
    - Ensuring development of sufficient levels of specialised services including by
       convening a working group of key stakeholders to develop guidance and facilitate
       coordination within and across boroughs

Recommendation 2: Expanding rape crisis provision in London

The expansion of rape crisis provision should include adequate sexual violence support
and counselling in HMP Holloway and in police custody. The full range of Haven
services should be available in custody. The Mayor should ensure sustainable funding
for this expansion in services.



Women Offender Campaign Network                                                            4
Response to the Way Forward: A call for action to end violence against women
Recommendation 3: Respond to the needs of children and young people
experiencing violence.

Prevention programmes must aim to reach children and young people outside of the
school system, including through Youth Offending Teams.

Recommendation 4: Violence against women training for relevant professionals
across London and improved information and resources for the public.

The VAW Steering Group and training consortium should develop specialist training and
guidance in working with women offenders and ex-offenders who have experienced
VAW. Specialist service providers should be consulted in the development of this
training and guidance.

Recommendation 6: Meet the needs of London’s diverse communities
The consultation document does not say what the Mayor will do to ensure that the needs
of diverse communities will be met. Possible actions include:
    - using the training consortium to develop training and guidance on working with
        specific communities/client groups
    - ensuring adequate data collection for borough and London-wide needs
        assessments
    - supporting the development of specialised support and ensuring adequate levels
    - encouraging joint commissioning to ensure that minority populations’ needs are
        met regardless of where in London they live


Objective 3: Addressing health, social and economic consequences of violence

Recommendation 1. Petition and collaborate with the health sector to ensure that
policies incorporate all forms of violence against women and that they are
effectively implemented.

Women offenders and ex-offenders who have experienced VAW also experience health
inequalities. Their needs should be addressed in the Mayor's forthcoming Health
Inequalities Strategy. The proposed measures in respect of health professionals must
include those working with women in prison and in police custody.

Recommendation 2. Addressing the financial impacts of violence against women

Initiatives helping women into work and training such as the London Skills and
Employment Board and ESF co-financing agencies must be open to women with
criminal records. Similarly, the proposed resettlement grant for women escaping violent
relationships must be available to women offenders, including women leaving prison.

Recommendation 3. Integrate violence against women into the London Housing
Strategy

As noted in the General Comments section the Mayor, through their housing
responsibilities, should seek to address this by identifying ways to overcome the
additional barriers women offenders who have experienced VAW face in accessing
housing, these should be included in the London Housing Strategy.

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Response to the Way Forward: A call for action to end violence against women
Recommendation 5. Address the needs of children who have witnessed or
experienced violence.

The support proposed should include specialised support for children of incarcerated
mothers who have witnessed VAW and been separated from their primary carer. The
VAW Steering Group and the training consortium should work with specialist providers to
develop training and guidance.

Objective 4: Protecting women at risk

Recommendation 1: Make significant improvements to protection and support at a
local level.

As outlined above the Mayor should use their role and responsibilities to improve support
for women offenders and ex-offenders who have experienced VAW, increase their safety
and prevent re-victimisation.




                          For further information please contact:

                                     Laurel Townhead

                                      Women in Prison
                                     347-349 City Road
                                          London
                                        EC1V 1LR

                               laurel@womeninprison.org.uk

                                       020 7841 4760




Women Offender Campaign Network                                                        6
Response to the Way Forward: A call for action to end violence against women

				
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